Thursday, March 22, 2018

National Drought Mitigation Center

Drought in August 2014: Slight easing in Plains and Southwest, persistence on West Coast

by Brian Fuchs, NDMC Climatologist


Drought conditions in August 2014 improved slightly, with the spatial extent receding and the intensity easing in some areas. The proportion of the contiguous United States in moderate drought improved from 34.06 at the end of July to 33.86 percent on Aug. 26, severe drought improved from 22.77 to 21.55 percent, and extreme and exceptional drought remained about the same.


Temperatures were cooler than normal over much of the Eastern Seaboard down to the Carolinas, and over the lower Mississippi Valley, the High Plains, and most of the Rocky Mountains and Great Basin regions. Temperatures were generally 2-4 degrees Fahrenheit below normal with the largest departures from normal in Arizona and Virginia. Elsewhere, most temperatures were normal to slightly above normal except along the West Coast, where parts of California, Oregon and Washington were 4-6 degrees hotter than usual for the month.


Most of the Great Basin and Rocky Mountains, High Plains and Midwest saw above-normal precipitation in August. The greatest departures from normal were in Montana, Nebraska, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, Illinois, and Kentucky where it rained 3-6 inches more than usual. Some areas approached 9 inches above normal in Iowa, Montana, and North Dakota.


For September, forecasts anticipated improvement in Arizona, New Mexico, Kansas, southern Colorado and southern Texas. Drought will remain over much of the West, with further development anticipated in portions of Idaho, Washington, and Oregon.

Movers & Shakers for August 2014
Percent area
July 29, 2014
Percent area
Aug. 26, 2014
Status Percentage point change

Biggest increases in drought
moderate 9.23
20.14 moderate 19.14
0.00 8.07 severe 8.07
41.47 46.26 moderate 4.79
Oregon 19.91 33.82 extreme 13.91
Texas 32.96 38.21 moderate 5.25
Utah 75.52 81.56 moderate 6.04
Washington 33.38 40.32 moderate 6.94
Biggest improvements to drought
97.88 90.75 moderate 7.13
68.25 56.60 severe 11.65
16.84 6.71 extreme 10.13
100 95.42 severe 4.58
20.23 severe 13.32
8.93 5.58 extreme 3.35
Kentucky 14.48 10.30 moderate 4.18
New Mexico
70.28 moderate 25.35
54.47 40.20 severe 14.27
18.26 7.39 extreme 10.87
Oklahoma 76.16
71.14 moderate 5.02
60.09 48.51 severe 11.58
23.36 15.75 extreme 7.61
Puerto Rico
17.74 3.89 moderate 13.85
South Dakota
3.61 0 moderate 3.61

Regional Overviews


The cool summer continued in the Northeast. With the exception of northern Maine, all areas experienced below-normal temperatures, with departures of 3-4 degrees over Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia. The most pronounced wetter-than-normal areas, by as much as 2-4 inches, were over western Virginia, Pennsylvania, and southern West Virginia. But eastern areas of New York, southern New England and the coastal areas of the Mid-Atlantic were up to 2-4 inches drier than normal. None of the region is in drought and only a few isolated areas are abnormally dry.


Warm temperatures dominated much of the Southeast, especially the southern half. From central Alabama and Georgia southward, August was 2-3 degrees above normal. Conditions were dry over the entire region, with most areas recording 2-4 inches below normal precipitation in August. With the warmer and drier conditions, moderate or worse drought expanded to 6.52 percent of the region at the end of August, compared to 0.38 percent a month earlier. Severe drought was introduced into southern Georgia, so 1.65 percent of the region was in severe drought on Aug. 26.


After being cooler than normal for most of the summer, heat returned to the Midwest in August. Most areas were 2-3 degrees above normal for the month, with some areas of southern Missouri 3-4 degrees above normal. Wetter-than-normal conditions also dominated the region. Most areas received 3-6 inches above normal precipitation for the month, with places in western Iowa recording 6-9 inches above normal. Drought is not a current problem in the Midwest, with patches of drought in southern Missouri and Kentucky putting 1.79 percent of the region in drought on Aug. 26, down from 2.50 percent a month earlier.

High Plains

Temperatures were quite variable across the High Plains, with the northern areas 2-3 degrees below normal and the southern areas 2-3 degrees above normal for the month. Most areas were 3-6 inches wetter than usual for the month, with areas of Kansas and Colorado slightly drier than normal. Drought conditions did not change much in August, with 21.32 percent of the region in drought on Aug. 26, compared to 21.67 percent a month earlier. Drought intensities eased, as areas of severe, extreme, and exceptional drought all decreased in spatial extent.


Temperatures were 2-3 degrees warmer than normal over the western extent of the Southern region and 2-3 degrees cooler than normal over the eastern extent in August. Overall, it was a fairly dry month, with only areas of southern Arkansas, Louisiana, and extreme south and central Texas recording above-normal precipitation. Departures from normal were greatest over Louisiana, with 5-6 inches above normal for the month quite common in the state. Most departures were 2-3 inches below normal over much of Oklahoma and east Texas. Drought conditions expanded slightly this month, with 40.81 percent of the region in drought on Aug. 26 compared to 39.88 percent four weeks earlier. Drought intensities did not change much. Severe drought increased from 24.65 to 25.76 percent, extreme drought decreased slightly from 10.33 to 10.29 percent, and exceptional drought decreased from 2.08 to 1.69 percent.


Much of the West was cooler than normal in August, with departures of 2-4 degrees below normal common from the Southwest into the Rocky Mountains. The Pacific Northwest and California were the exceptions, at 2-4 degrees above normal for the month. The monsoon season shifted a bit more to the west and active summer thunderstorms were evident over much of the mountainous region. Some areas of Montana and Idaho recorded 3-6 inches of rain above normal for the month. For most areas along the West Coast, this continues to be the dry season, with rain neither expected nor received. Drought in the region actually improved slightly in August, with 58.91 percent of the region in drought on Aug. 26, compared to 60.93 percent a month earlier. Severe drought regions declined from 44.49 to 41.45 percent, extreme drought areas improved from 21.68 to 20.62 percent, and exceptional drought areas remained unchanged.

Continued drought brings water shortages, wildfire to West


This chart from the California Department of Water Resources shows how much groundwater has declined from Spring 2004 through Spring 2014.


NASA released these satellite photos comparing reservoirs and vegetation in northern California in 2011 and 2014. Vegetation appears red, water is dark blue and dry, barren land is tan. Please visit NASA’s Earth Observatory for more detail.


California Drought,” by John Weiss, is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. It shows a vineyard in Napa Valley, California, on Dec. 13, 2013.


These charts break down the 141 impacts added to the Drought Impact Reporter in August. The pie chart show impacts by category for the nation. The bar chart shows impacts by category for the seven states with the most impacts recorded.

by Denise Gutzmer, NDMD Drought Impact Specialist

August brought more of the same—water shortages and wildfires—to a drought-stricken West Coast as impacts intensified during a hot summer. More California communities tightened water restrictions while wells produced less water and water supplies ran low. West Coast states battled wildfires ignited by lightning strikes, while heat, winds and challenging terrain made blazes difficult to extinguish. Texas, enduring yet another year of drought, saw its water supplies dwindling further and water agencies asking for more conservation. During August, the NDMC added 125 impacts to the Drought Impact Reporter, most of which related to water supplies and restrictions.

National and Regional Impacts

Earth’s surface rising in Western U.S.

Drought cost the Western U.S. about 63 trillion gallons of water over the past year and a half, said researchers from UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the U.S. Geological Survey. The Earth’s surface rose about 0.16 inches during that time. In the Sierra Nevada and the Coast Ranges in California, the water loss was even greater as the surface rose as much as 0.6 inches. The uplift was detected across the Western U.S. using GPS data normally used to detect minor changes caused by earthquakes.
63 trillion gallons of groundwater lost in drought, study finds,” by Rong-Gong Lin II, Los Angeles Times, Aug. 21

U.S. beef production down, consumer prices up

Beef production was 2.09 billion pounds in July, 9 percent lower than July 2013. Slaughter numbers were also down 10 percent at 2.6 million head, but live weights were up slightly, compensating for fewer animals.
Beef Production Down 9 Percent from Last July,” by Wyatt Bechtel, Dairy Today, Aug. 22

Consumer ground beef prices rose 12 percent to a new high of $3.884 per pound in July. Drought and the smallest cattle herd in 63 years contributed to persistent lower production and the high price of beef.“Greener Pastures Signaling U.S. Beef Supply Rebound: Commodities,” by Megan Durisin, Bloomberg, Aug. 19

Falling level of Lake Mead provoking anxiety in Southwest, but larger water allocation coming in 2015

Major cities and other water users in the Southwest were growing increasingly anxious as Lake Mead continued its decline to the lowest it has been since the lake was filled in the 1930s. The lake hit a new low of 1,080 feet above sea level, 145 feet lower than the record high of 1,225 feet in 1983. Water deliveries to Arizona and Nevada will be curbed if Lake Mead reaches 1,075 feet above sea level.
“Southwest Braces as Lake Mead Water Levels Drop,” by Ken Ritter, Associated Press, Aug. 12

Lake Mead will receive a larger allocation of 8.23 million acre-feet from Lake Powell in 2015, thanks to plentiful snowfall in the Rocky Mountains. Runoff was 94 percent of historical average for the year, in comparison with 45 percent in 2012 and 47 percent in 2013. Next year’s delivery will be about 10 percent more than last year, but because 9 million acre-feet leave Lake Mead annually, the lake will continue its decline. The Bureau of Reclamation expects the lake to drop from 1,080 feet to 1,073 feet during the next year.
More water headed to struggling Lake Mead,” by Conor Shine, Las Vegas Sun, Aug. 13

Water conservation in the Colorado River Basin

The Interior Department and four municipal water providers in Arizona, California, Nevada and Colorado were contributing $11 million to promote water conservation in the Colorado River basin and will take part in a pilot program to reduce water demand by cities, farmers and industry.
“11M deal struck to conserve Colorado River basin,” by Associated Press, Aug. 1


California water rights exceed existing water supply, apart from drought

California water rights holders have been promised five times more water than flows through the state, researchers from UC Davis uncovered in a recent study. The State Water Resources Control Board has a backlog in water allocation data and does not know exactly how much water was being used. As drought continued, the state was striving to straighten out the outdated, inaccurate water records.

The most over-allocated rivers run through central and Northern California, flowing from the Sierra Nevada to the Central Valley and toward the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. In Southern California, water users have rights to 183 percent of the Santa Ana River’s annual runoff. Water users on the San Joaquin River have rights to 673 percent of the river’s natural flow.

Statewide, 370 million acre-feet of water have been allocated by the state to various users, but only 70 million acre-feet of water are available in a decent year of precipitation. That leaves the state about 300 million acre-feet short of water, or the equivalent of about 2.5 Lake Tahoes.
UC Davis study: California gives away more water than it has,” by Aaron Orlowski, Orange County Register, Aug 19

California’s groundwater pumping rate unsustainable

Groundwater pumping in California far exceeded a sustainable rate as growers struggled to produce crops in the state’s third year of drought. Near Sacramento, the level of a state-owned well plummeted 100 feet during a three-month period. Other wells have gone dry amid a well-drilling frenzy. Irrigation represents 41 percent of California’s water use, while urban water systems use just 9 percent.
West’s historic drought stokes fears of water crisis,” by Jody Warrick, The Washington Post, Aug. 17

Clamor for well permits in Fresno, Tulare counties

The demand for water-well permits remained high in Fresno County where 414 permits were issued to farms from the start of the year through July 21, more than twice the number from the same interval last year, when 179 permits were issued. In Tulare County, farmers were eager to drill wells, too. County officials issued 476 permits during the first half of the year, in comparison with the more than 335 permits issued during 2013.
California Farms Rush to Sink Wells as Record Drought Escalates,” by Alison Vekshin and Michael B. Marois, The Washington Post with Bloomberg, Aug. 1

California legislation authorized oversight of groundwater pumping

The California Senate passed AB1739, legislation that authorizes groundwater sustainability agencies to install meters and charge fees. The bill was part of a larger legislative package that would require some local governments to begin managing wells and authorizes the state to intervene in some circumstances if local governments do not.
Lawmakers approve groundwater management bill,” by Judy Lin, Associated Press, Aug 27

California bees and honey production

Drought has cut California’s honey production by more than half, compared to annual averages before the drought. In 2010, 27.5 million pounds of honey were produced in the state, and in 2013, the honey crop was 10.9 million pounds. The 2014 honey crop is expected to be even lower than last year. Drought dried up native plants and wildflowers, whose nectar honeybees use to make honey. Beekeepers must supplement the bees’ diets with sugar syrup until plants resume making flowers and nectar.
“Record drought saps California honey production,” by Terence Chea, Associated Press,, Aug. 21

Domestic wells on the Oregon-California border going dry

Domestic wells on the Oregon-California border were running dry as farmers pumped groundwater heavily to compensate for the lack of irrigation water. Other factors played into the lower water table, such as the ongoing drought and new rules to protect endangered fish. A July groundwater review performed by the Oregon Water Resources Department found that most measurements were lower than the lowest 2010 and/or lowest 2013 readings.
Groundwater aquifers under stress,” by Lacey Jarrell, Herald and News, Klamath Falls, Ore., Aug. 14

Some domestic wells ran dry in East Porterville, California

Wells went dry in East Porterville, leaving residents to rely on the Tulare County Office of Emergency Services to begin bringing in bottled water on Aug. 22. At least 182 households of the 1,400 homes in town were without adequate running water, according to the Porterville Reporter. The county has also supplied a tank of non-potable water for bathing and toilet flushing. Some East Porterville residents have been without water for a while, but failed to report it for fear of being evicted or having their children removed from the home by Child Welfare Services. The emergency services manager for Tulare County assured the public that they simply want to provide water and will not share lists of homes lacking running water with CWS.
“Drought leaves California homes without water,” Associated Press, Aug 23

West Coast wildfires

Lightning strikes sparked many wildfires in August along the West Coast during August. Five large wildfires in California’s Klamath and Lassen national forests in August burned more than 221,000 acres. Many smaller fires burned elsewhere in the state. Oregon and Washington also battled numerous large wildfires that charred hundreds of thousands of acres in both states.

State of emergency due to wildfires in California

The governor of California on Aug. 2 issued an emergency proclamation of a state of emergency as lightning-sparked wildfires blazed in El Dorado, Amador, Butte, Humboldt, Lassen, Madera, Mariposa, Mendocino, Modoc, Shasta and Siskiyou counties. On Aug. 1, 17 wildfires were burning in the state, affecting thousands of acres. The emergency proclamation allowed all agencies of the state government to utilize and employ state personnel, equipment and facilities for the performance of activities related to fire fighting.
California wildfires: Storms curb blazes as lightning starts new ones,” by Joseph Serna, Los Angeles Times, Aug. 5

Society & Public Health

Lawn replacements, lawn painting popular during California drought

Californians have shown more interest lately in replacing lawns with drought-tolerant landscaping, especially when cities offer nice rebates for residents who do so. During July, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California received requests to take out 2.5 million square feet of residential lawns, a dramatic increase from requests to replace 99,000 sq. feet in January. More than 21 million square feet of turf have been torn out since the district began its turf removal incentives. Some Californians have chosen to paint their lawns rather than try to keep them green through watering. A vegetable-based dye lasts for a few months.
“Homeowners tear out lawns to cope with drought,” Associated Press, Aug. 27

California food banks cope with increased demand

California’s business, agriculture, and civic organizations have joined forces with the California Community Food Bank to form the “California Water Feeds our Communities” food drive to collect and distribute food to food banks across the state. The historic drought has increased demand at food banks while limiting donations. Food deliveries began on Sept. 3 when 17 trucks transporting 374 pallets of produce traveled from Fresno to food banks in Merced, Bakersfield, Los Angeles, Watsonville, Salinas, Santa Maria, Oxnard, Riverside and San Diego. Some of the organizations involved in the effort include Fresno Downtown Business Hub, El Agua Es Asunto De Todos, and California Water Alliance.
California Business, Farm and Community Groups Join Forces for Drought Relief in Statewide Food Giveaway,” PRWeb, Aug. 19


Waterfowl on Pacific Flyway threatened by drought, less habitat

This year looks to be a very difficult one for North American waterfowl that travel along the Pacific Flyway. With the drought, fewer water sources remained in the Central Valley, meaning birds would be crowded into smaller areas, making it easier to transmit diseases and more challenging to find enough food. In a typical year, about 5 million waterfowl winter on state and federal wildlife refuges and flooded rice fields in the Central Valley. Birds died from disease in several areas. Officials suspect avian botulism, but the cause has not yet been confirmed.
North American waterfowl are newest casualty of California’s drought,” by Matt Weiser, Sacramento Bee, July 30

Flightless geese rescued from dry pond near Sacramento

About 50 flightless geese were rescued from a drying pond in Woodland, where foxes and coyotes were devouring the geese. The birds were moved to wetter sites in Santa Cruz, Orland and Bakersfield.
“Geese stuck in drought-depleted California pond are rescued,” by Alex Dobuzinskis, Reuters, Aug. 6

Low water impeding fish movement in Napa River in California

Fewer young steelhead trout were moving down the Napa River to the ocean as measured by an annual count of the native fish. Biologists and volunteers with the Napa County Resource Conservation District counted just 31 steelhead smolts and no young Chinook salmon between March and June, for the lowest number in six years. Drought has reduced the flow of the Napa River, making it difficult for the fish to swim down the river.
Drought reduces steelhead in Napa River,” by Kerana Todorov, Napa Valley Register, Aug. 3

Conflict over water for California salmon

The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors sought water releases from Trinity Lake to avert fish kills stemming from low flows and warm water in the Trinity and Klamath rivers. The flow of the Klamath River was below the minimum flow and lower than the nearly 2,000 cubic feet per second during which the massive 2002 fish kill occurred. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation said on July 31 that no additional water would be released to the Trinity and Klamath rivers, but water would be directed to the Sacramento River for the protection of federally endangered Chinook salmon.
Supes extend state of emergency for drought,” by Will Houston, Times-Standard, Willits News, Aug. 12

The Westlands Water District and the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority in the Central Valley sought a temporary injunction to keep the water in a reservoir on the Trinity River.  Less water will be left for Central Valley farmers next year if the releases were to continue. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation began increasing flows into the Trinity River on Aug. 23 to lessen the spread of disease among salmon and to aid the fish in their journey upstream.“Judge won't stop emergency water releases helping Klamath Basin salmon,” by Associated Press, Oregon, Aug . 27


Hydropower production in California

The Pacific Gas and Electric Company held back water during the spring of 2014 and generated less hydropower, so the water could be used for electricity production during the summer when demand for power would be higher. The California Energy Commission estimated that hydroelectric production in the Sierra Nevada in 2014 would be roughly half the production in 2010, which was a normal hydroelectric year. Powerhouses along 16 rivers in the Sierra region generated about 31.7 million megawatt-hours of electricity in 2010, but in 2014, these powerhouses are expected to produce just 17 million MWh.
PG&E's Helms hydroelectric plant has advantage during drought,” by Tim Sheehan, The Fresno Bee, Aug. 3

Hydropower production ended in Nevada

Three hydropower plants belonging to the Truckee Meadows Power Authority were shutting down because there was not enough water to keep the plants operating. The plants will probably be able to generate hydropower again in January or February 2015.
Drought Shutters Hydro Power Generation,” by Colin Lygren, KOLOTV, Nevada, July 30


Paddle wheel boat ran aground in Lake Tahoe

About 300 people were rescued on South Lake Tahoe on Aug. 4 after the paddle wheel boat they were on ran aground. The boat, its crew and 257 passengers were stranded roughly 600 yards from Regan Beach.
300 rescued after Lake Tahoe boat hits sand bar,” Associated Press, Aug. 4

Reno trout dying in ditches

An estimated 6,000 trout and other fish were rescued from drying ditches near Reno by Nevada wildlife officials and about two dozen volunteers. Water levels in the ditches became very low after Truckee Meadows Water Authority stopped releasing Truckee River water into the ditches for hydropower production, leaving the fish stranded in pools. The fish were relocated to the Truckee River near Verdi where there was adequate water, thanks to recent rainfall.
“Thousands of stranded fish rescued in dry Nevada,” Associated Press, Aug. 7

Drought-related duck deaths in Reno, Nevada

Water quality has deteriorated at two Reno city parks, where lakes have not received water from the Truckee River since early August. At that time, the river fell below the level of diversion outlets that direct water to Reno’s parks, stopping all water flow to the lakes. With no fresh water coming in, water quality worsened, with 24 ducks found dead at Virginia Lake and about the same number at Teglia’s Paradise Park. Avian botulism is the likely culprit, but lab results have not yet verified that suspicion.
Ducks dying at drought-lowered Virginia Lake in Reno,” by Jeff DeLong, Reno Gazette-Journal, Aug. 26


Water supplies in many parts of Texas have not fully recovered from the blistering drought in 2011, making water scarcity an ongoing danger:

  • One of Wichita Falls’ reservoirs, Lake Arrowhead, held just 22 percent of capacity. Authorities began using a biodegradable palm oil- and lime-based product to reduce evaporation from the lake. “Parched Texas city hopes water additive will cut lake evaporation,” Associated Press, Aug. 4
  • Water conservation, and resulting low water consumption, in the North Texas Municipal Water District left water in the distribution system long enough to compromise water quality, prompting the district board to loosen water restrictions to flush out the old water. “North Texas Municipal Water District approves once-a-week sprinkler use,” by Michael E. Young, Dallas Morning News, Aug. 28
  • The Edwards Aquifer Authority entered stage 4 restrictions, an unprecedented move requiring a 40 percent reduction in pumping from the aquifer. “Edwards Aquifer Authority announces stage 4 restrictions,” by Jeremy Baker, KENS5, San Antonio, Texas, Aug. 13 
  • The City of San Marcos entered stage 4 drought restrictions for the first time ever. The flow of the San Marcos Springs fell to 120 cubic feet per second, halting work near the springs to prevent damage to endangered species or their habitats. “Texas State looks to conserve water during State 4 drought,” by Carlie Porterfield, The (Texas State) University Star, Aug. 25; “Drought prompts San Marcos to enact ‘Provision M’ habitat plan,” Austin-American Statesman, Aug. 14
  • The Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority entered stage 4 water restrictions because the average 24-hour spring flow rate from Comal Springs was 94 cubic feet per second, below the trigger of 100 cubic feet per second. “GBRA moves to Stage IV restrictions on lakes,” New Braunfels Herald-Zeitung, Aug. 11

Business & Industry

Drought dented Cargill’s yearly profit

Cargill’s profits for the year that ended May 31 were $1.87 billion, 19 percent lower than last year. The decrease occurred due to China’s rejection of some U.S. corn shipments, drought in the U.S. in 2013 and higher transportation expenses related to the railcar shortage.
Cargill’s Annual Profits Slide 19%; Revenue Drops Too,” by Kevin Mahoney, Twin Cities Business, Aug. 7

Water bodies reaching record lows

Great Salt Lake in Utah becoming too shallow for boats

At least 70 boats had been removed from the Great Salt Lake Park Marina as the lake dipped to its lowest level in more than 50 years.
Drought forces some boats from shrinking Great Salt Lake in Utah,” by Jennifer Dobiner, Reuters, Aug. 5

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